Despite the threat of harsher sanctions from the United States and the United Nations, North Korea conducted its fifth underground nuclear test.
North Korea has been testing a variety of weapons this year. The country has engaged in two nuclear missile tests, an intercontinental ballistic missile, a submarine ICBM and a host of other short and medium-range rocket tests. The strength of its latest nuclear test yielded 10 kilotons of TNT. For comparison, the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 had yield of 15 kilotons.
While North Korea has made progress, doubts remain on whether the country can master the technology needed to produce a nuclear warhead that is both small and stable enough to be mounted on an ICBM.
The United Nations Security Council will convene an emergency meeting to come up with a response to this latest violation of U.N. resolutions. This will lead to tougher sanctions against the regime. North Korea will respond with more saber rattling, hoping to extract foreign aid.
The United States and China have long been at odds on how to respond to the behavior of North Korea. President Barack Obama, however, sees this as an opportunity to make inroads. Earlier this year the United States praised China for supporting sanctions against the increasingly isolated nation.
After this recent test, China has urged North Korea to stray from any further escalation and to abide by the resolutions. Both of these incidents show the increasingly strained relations between China and North Korea. However, Chinese President Xi Jinping has refrained from any severe punishment directed at Kim Jong-un.
China has also protested the deployment of the Thermal High Altitude Area Defense system in North Korea, claiming that this action would be just as provocative as the nuclear test. The only thing worse than being attached to North Korea is being attached to a failed nuclear state—a fate that China is avoiding at all costs. A collapse in North Korea could also result in a unified Korea under U.S. influence, which is why China has been tolerating Jong-un’s actions.
A land war should be the last option on the table. North Korea has hundreds of artillery pieces aimed at Seoul, the capital of South Korea. If North Korea fires the missiles, it is estimated that around 3,000 civilians would be dead within the first minutes. If the country strictly targets the capital and no military targets, 30,000 would die.
If North Korea’s missiles were fired, we would also have to deal with the aftermath. A refugee crisis would soon follow as millions of North Koreans would spill over the borders into China, South Korea and Russia, many of them unskilled, poor and hungry.
Sanctions are still the best option on the table. They forced Iran to negotiate and inflicted severe damage to the Russian economy after its invasion of Crimea. Even with sanctions, however, there should be a line. Diplomacy should always be the first option but, when North Korea starts threatening our allies or our nation, force may be necessary.